Science has shown that when you hug, snuggle, hold hands, or embrace someone else, you’re not only creating magical moments, but you’re boosting your overall health.
Physical touch can help fight off any sicknesses, lower your blood pressure, and more because your body releases oxytocin, a hormone that promotes calmness. Cuddling also helps to lower cortisol levels, a hormone that causes stress, enabling you to deal with stress more adequately..
Oxytocin has been nicknamed the “feel-good hormone” or the “cuddle hormone” because when we are physically affectionate with someone, the hormone oxytocin is produced by the hypothalamus and then released by the pituitary gland – giving you the warm and fuzzy feeling of bonding, connection, and trust. Oxytocin is unique in that the more you release by being affectionate with someone else, the more you want to touch, hug, hold hands, and snuggle. The release of oxytocin is, essentially, a snowball effect that benefits your overall health and long-term personal well-being.
Naturally, oxytocin levels are found to be higher in women than they are in men, as it plays a significant role in the maternal-infant relationship, is associated with lactation and childbirth, and can be prescribed during delivery and childbirth by physicians.
However, one significant discovery to note about the relationship between oxytocin and embracing someone, is that the hug or physical touch is only positively effective when the touch is consensual. Physical contact that is undesired has shown to have the opposite effect – it increases stress and cortisol levels.
One way to capitalize on this feel-good effect is to join a cuddle event. A cuddle event is just as its name suggests – a group of individuals, couples or polyamorous families will come together and snuggle up with each other. Business Insider defines these events as “intimate gatherings where strangers meet, practice consent, and enjoy human touch. The events are non-sexual, and while they may not be experiences for everyone, their message of proactive consent and communication can help build healthy relationships, trust, and confidence.”
About five years ago, Erez Benari found himself joining a group cuddle, informally known as a “cuddle puddle”, and realized how amazing it is to connect with people that way. This experience led to him create “Spoonz”, a club he opened in Seattle in 2019, but closed in early 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As restrictions in Washington state began to become more lax, Benari created “Hugz & Cuddlez”, c Benari organizes weekly events for community members, at various locations, where they can gather, socialize and connect, with an emphasis on a non-judgemental atmosphere, and platonic, healthy and beneficial touch.
According to their website, “Hugz & Cuddlez is a community centered around healthy, warm and nurturing touch. We believe all human beings need human touch, and that it is essential for a healthy and happy life. To this end, we organize and run events where our members meet, socialize and enjoy group-cuddling in a warm, supportive, nurturing and safe environment.”
Benari believes “Some people cuddle because it feels “safe”; others feel loved or just plain pleasant. We cuddle to get more of those positive feelings.”
In addition to these positive feelings, cuddling and physically embracing someone improves your overall health. In a study at UPenn, 59 women who hugged or physically engaged with their partners more frequently showed a lower resting blood pressure than those who rarely engaged in physical touch. One key to lowering your risk of heart disease is to have healthy blood pressure, and a small, yet potentially significant way to maintain heart health is through hugs and cuddles.
While having increased heart health may be enough for some people to embrace the embrace, having higher levels of oxytocin in your system has been scientifically linked to not only falling asleep quickly, but staying asleep. The hormone oxytocin has a side effect to help regulate your sleep patterns, and you will potentially have fewer nightmares.
At Hugz & Cuddlez, Benari takes this into consideration when planning events. The events generally start around 8pm and end around 2-3am, but will sometimes go on all night if the space permits. The atmosphere of the room is relaxing with ample soft, cushioned surfaces like mattresses, couches, bean bags with freshly laundered linens. The lights are dimmed, soft music is playing, the room temperature is a comfortable 68°-70° Fahrenheit, and there is a snack and drink table to make guests feel welcomed. With cuddling being a relaxing activity and promoting healthy sleep patterns, Benari allows his guests to stay overnight in the cuddle space if they are too tired to drive themselves home.
Oxytocin is one of the hormones related to our appetites and is released when we are full; it tells our body and brain to stop eating. When the hormone oxytocin is released during hugging, cuddling, or holding hands with someone, it has the same effect on our bodies as just having had a well-rounded meal, making you less likely to snack and gain weight. While this is still an area of ongoing research, several strides have been made to show the relationship between cuddling and weight gain.
While hugs and cuddles are shown to increase your body’s oxytocin levels, these acts of physical affection have been proven to reduce secretion of cortisol, which is known as the stress hormone. Those who have high cortisol levels have been shown to have a higher risk of depression or other mental, and even physical, ailments. Prolonged physical contact with another person, especially someone you care about, calms the urge to feel frazzled.
At Hugz & Cuddlez, Benari encourages a stress-free environment to promote more meaningful cuddles. With the layout of the room, guests are able to socialize by chatting, connecting, or reconnecting, as many participants are long-time friends, usually while touching each other, or will cuddle with each other, continuing the socializing. While conversations range from how the guests’ weeks have been, their jobs, who they are dating, what is happening in their relationships, they can sometimes delve into experiences in the community and coaching or mentoring those that are attempting polyamorous relationships and are struggling or are still trying to figure it out. All touching and conversation topics are all based on the guests’ comfort level and connection and no one is forced to be in situations where they feel uncomfortable. If a guest starts to feel overwhelmed or needs to take a break, there is an outdoor space for them to get air, vape, or even continue a conversation that they were having inside.
Someone that has an increased production of cortisol, the stress hormone, is more likely to have a weakened immune system, and a higher chance of becoming ill. However, oxytocin production has the unique ability to undo the effects of cortisol and restore your body’s natural balance, improving your odds of fighting off infections and viruses, and improving your immune function.
With the Covid-19 pandemic and the social distancing protocols, it has been difficult to gain the benefits of oxytocin from physical contact with someone else. At Hugz & Cuddlez, Benari follows all CDC guidelines, ensuring that all linens are freshly laundered, all dishes are washed, surfaces are sanitized, and all guests at one of his events are fully vaccinated, can show proof of negative Covid test, and wear a mask. It’s not uncommon for about 25-35 people to be in attendance at a cuddle event, but Benari will limit the number of guests by closing the event once a certain capacity is reached, to avoid overcrowding the space, leading to safety or health hazards.
Physical affection with another person has the long-term effect of boosting your mood. “It is important to remember that Oxytocin is part of a complex system of neurohormones, but when it’s released by physical touch it can have many benefits including laying the foundation for cognitive, social and emotional well-being, and strengthening emotional bonds and trust,” says Paula S. Barry, MD, physician at Penn Family and Internal Medicine Longwood explained.
With the obvious physical and mental benefits of hugging and cuddling, we asked Benari what makes for the best cuddle and he told us, “Of course, the people… good people make for a good cuddle!”
Benari understands the financial constraints some attendees may be facing, so he offers his weekly events free of charge to members in the community.
Hugz & Cuddlez is not your only option for a cuddle event in the Pacific Northwest. Cuddle PartyTM Seattle is another type of workshop/social event, that creates a safe place to give and receive non-sexual touch in a fun and affectionate setting. These parties are smaller, more intimate cuddling sessions and are primarily for couple-cuddling with orientation and group discussions before the cuddling begins. Cuddle PartyTM hosts events across the US, and the organization will charge for entry to its monthly parties.
To learn more about Hugz & Cuddlez, please visit their website at www.hugzandcuddlez.com, and for more information on Cuddle PartyTM Seattle, you can visit them at www.cuddleseattle.com. Or their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/groups/cuddleseattle/